Big against the run

GREEN BAY - This time, Gilbert Brown made sure the San Francisco 49ers running game didn't walk all over the Green Bay Packers defense.<p> The mammoth defensive tackle, who played in only one of the last five regular season games, started Sunday and delievered a big message on the game's first play: Sacking Niners quarterback Jeff Garcia.<p>

"It was a message the whole stadium heard," said Packers defensive coordinator Ed Donatell. "He knew we needed him to perform at a playoff level, and he did exactly that."

After Brown's sack, defensive end Cletidus Hunt stuffed Niners running back Garrison Hearst for a 4-yard loss. The Packers defense went on to limit Hearst to 42 yards on 13 carries and the powerful Niners running game just 71 yards in a 25-15 win in an NFC wild card playoff game at Lambeau Field.

The defense was especially impressive against the run. In the last four regular season games, the Packers gave up 167, 168, 199 and 146 yards on the ground.

"I thought the whole defense did a fantastic job," said Packers head coach Mike Sherman. "When you consider the fact that we have not been able to shut down the run and this is the second-rated run team in football. They played worked extremely hard in practice. I'm not surprised by what happened."

What happened was that the Niners ground game, led by Hearst, who finished the regular season with 1,206 yards, seemed to deflate almost instantly after Brown and Hunt made their plays.

"I forgot how that felt," said Brown, who missed the entire 2000 season while trying to lose weight. "It's been a while since I got one of those. It just felt good getting out there fighting with my teammates and having fun."

The sack was Brown's first since 1997. He finished with five tackles. Meanwhile, Hunt finished with a season-high five tackles and blocked a field goal in by far his most productive game as a Packer.

"We knew what we had to do to stop them," said Hunt, who missed the first four games of the season after being suspended for violation of the league's substance abuse policy. "This is the kind of game that makes us feel we can go on and get this done."

Brown and Hunt weren't the only one feeling groovy after those two plays.

"That got everybody fired up," said linebacker Nate Wayne, who finished with a team-high nine tackles. "I think those plays knocked them off their rhythm. Suddenly, they knew we were there, and we were going to stay there, whether they wanted us to or not."

"Those plays set the whole tone for the game," said defensive end Vonnie Holliday. "Gilbert got everybody going. That really started us off right. The guys just jumped behind that and got after it."

The defense seemed to get after everything Sunday after being driven crazy by misdirection plays and cutbacks during the past four weeks. The Packers controlled the line of scrimmage, and forced Hearst and running back Kevan Barlow inside, where the Packer linebackers were waiting.

"We weren't satisfied with one guy making the tackle," said defensive tackle Santana Dotson. "We made a conscious effort to cutdown the cutbacks. We knew if we could take away the run, we could make them a one-dimensional team."

Garcia tried his best to be that dimension, but he unloaded a costly interception with less than five minutes left in the game.

"They have a lot of weapons, and it's hard to keep them down the entire game," Donatell said. "I'm just proud of our players. They made the plays. We just figure out the schemes, but they have to make the plays."

The Packers also made plays to stop the rookie Barlow, who gained 17 yards on five carries. Barlow, a rookie from Pittsburgh, rushed for 512 yards this season to complement Hearst. The Niners finished the game with 71 yards rushing on 21 carries, a 3.4-yard average.

"It's always the biggest issue with us to stop the run," said linebacker Bernardo Harris. "But today especially we wanted them to know they were in a physical game. We had to come out and play and our best game. We knew that if we didn't, we'd probably end up going home."

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